"I grieved when the British Isles were destroyed," said Dr. Oberhausen. "Such a lovely culture, really. So basically solid. Immovable. But that is weakness, also. Continue, if you please."
"Plays bagpipes," said Ramsey. He looked at the doctor. "Now there's something: a Latin American playing the bagpipes!"
"I see nothing wrong with that, Johnny. For certain moods, nothing is more soothing."
Ramsey raised his gaze to the ceiling. "Soothing!" He looked back at the BuPsych chief. "Why am I reading this?"
"I wanted to get the full flavor of Garcia in mind before imparting the latest morsel from Security."
"That Garcia may be one of these sleepers who are giving Security so many sleepless nights."
Ramsey snorted. "Garcia! That's insane! As well suspect me!"
"They are still investigating you," said Dr. Oberhausen. "As to Garcia -- perhaps; perhaps not. Counter-intelligence has turned up the description of a sleeper supposed to be in the subtugs. The description fits Garcia. Security almost called off the mission. I convinced them to go ahead by suggesting that you be primed to watch Garcia."
Ramsey returned to the color photograph in his file folder, observed the sardonic smile. "I say we're chasing shadows. And that may be what the EPs really want. If it's carried to its illogical extreme, certain Security-thinking is first cousin to paranoia -- dementia praecox type."
Dr. Oberhausen lifted himself from the rattan chair. It gave off a reedy creaking. "Do not say that to the Security gentlemen when they come to brief you on Garcia," he said. "Oh, and one other thing: the commodore is sharpening knives with which to carve you if there is some error on this mission."
"I have you to thank for that," said Ramsey. "I take care of my own," said Dr. Oberhausen. "Fear not on that score." He waved toward the viewerscope. "Continue with your studies. I have other work."
Ramsey waited for the door to close, threw the file folder back onto the coffee table, took twenty deep breaths to calm his nerves. Presently, he leaned to the right, captured the folders on the other two crew members, scanned them.
Commander Harvey Acton Sparrow. Age forty-one. Picture of a tall, thin man with balding sandy hair, a face of sharp planes, stooped shoulders.
He looks like a small-town college professor, thought Ramsey. How much of that is conditioned on his early desire to teach mathematics? Does he resent the fact that his hardcrust Navy family forced him to follow in the old man's footsteps?
Father: Rear Admiral Acton Orwell Sparrow, lost with subcruiser Plunger in Battle of Irish Sea, 16 October 2018. Mother: Genene Cobe Sparrow. Invalid (heart), lives at Walters Point Government Rest Home. Wife: Rita. Age thirty-six. Blonde? Childless.
Does Sparrow know that his wife is unfaithful Ramsey asked himself. Most of their friends are aware of it.
Qualifications: navigator -- superior; gunnery officer -- superior; medical officer (advanced first aid and pressure syndrome) -- excellent; general submarine competence -- superior.
Ramsey turned to the other folder.
Lieutenant Commander Leslie (none) Bonnett. Age thirty-eight. Picture of a heavy-bodied man (just under six feet) with brown wavy hair (artificial wave?), aquiline nose, overhanging eyebrows, the look of a brooding hawk.
Orphan foundling. Raised at Cape Neston Home for the Unwanted.
For the Unwanted! thought Ramsey.
Married four times. Two children -- one by each of first two wives. Maintains marriage relationship with number four: Helene Davis Bonnett. Age twenty-nine. Miss Georgia of 2021.
The Unwanted, thought Ramsey. He's carrying out an unconscious revenge pattern against women, getting even with the mother who deserted him.
Qualifications: navigator -- good; supply officer -- excellent; gunnery officer -- superior (top torpedo
officer of subtugs four years running); general submarine competence -- excellent plus.
Ramsey looked at the note in the psych record: "Held from advancement to his own command by imperfect adjustment to deep-seated insecurity feelings."
The Unwanted, he thought. Bonnett probably doesn't want advancement. This way, his commander supplies the father authority lacking in his youth.
Ramsey tossed the folders back onto the coffee table, leaned back to think.
An association of twisted and tangled threads.
Sparrow and Bonnett were Protestants, Garcia a Catholic.
No evidence of religious friction.
These men have evolved a tight working arrangement. Witness the fact that their subtug has the highest efficiency rating in the service.
What has been the effect of losing Heppner, the other electronics officer? Will they resent his replacement?
Damn! Heppner was the wrong one to go! A case history with no apparent clues. Quiet childhood. Calm home life. Two sour notes: a broken love affair at age twenty-four; a psychotic blowup at age thirty-two. It should have been someone like Bonnett. The Unwanted. Or Captain Sparrow. The frustrated mathematician.
It was Reed, the constant tutor.
"It's three o'clock," he said. "I brought a layout plan of the electronics shack on these Hell Divers." He handed a blueprint to Ramsey, pointed as he spoke. "Bench here. Vise there. Wrench kit. Micro-lathe. Vacuum pumps. Testingboard plugs."
"Okay, I can read."
"You have to be able to plug into that test board in total darkness," said Reed. He sat down squarely in the rattan chair lately occupied by Dr. Oberhausen. "Tomorrow you're going to start training on a mock-up."
"Tomorrow's Saturday, Clint!" Ramsey glared at him.
"You don't get out of here before 1800," said Reed. He bent forward over the plan. "Now, concentrate on that plug layout. This here is emergency lighting. You'll be expected to find it the first time."
"What if it takes me two tries?"
Reed leaned back, turned his flinty gaze on Ramsey. "Mr. Ramsey, there's something you should understand so thoroughly that it's second nature to you."
"Yeah? What's that?"
"There is no such thing as a minor accident on a submarine."
Commander Sparrow trotted down the ramp from the tube landing, slowed as he stepped into the cavernous, floodlighted gloom of the underground submarine moorage. A fine mist of condensation from the rock ceiling far away in upper blackness beat against his face. He picked his way through the pattern of scurrying jitneys, darting, intent people. Ahead of him, the bulbous whale mound of his subtug rose above the pier; a 140-foot Wagnerian diva center stage beneath banks of floodlights.
Instructions from the final Security session jangled through his mind.
"Your crew has the top Security rating of the service, but you must remain alert for sleepers."
"In my crew? Hell, man, I've known them all for years. Bonnett's been with me eight years. Joe Garcia and I served together before the war. Heppner and --" His face had crimsoned. "What about the new E-officer?"
"You won't need to worry about him. Now, the inspectors assure us there are no enemy signal devices aboard your boat."
"Then why this gadget in my neck?"
"That's just an added precaution."
"What about this new man? What's his E-rating?"
"He's one of the best in the service. Here, look at his record."
"Limited combat experience in gulf patrol! He's practically a dryback!"
"But look at his E-rating."
A jitney driver shouted at Sparrow, bringing him out of his reverie. He glanced at his wrist watch: 0738 -- twenty-two minutes until castoff. His stomach tightened. He quickened his steps.
Damn Security's last-minute details!
Across the ebony velvet of the mooring pool he could see the glow tubes outlining the marine tunnel. Down the 160-mile slant of that tunnel, out into the underwater deeps of De Soto Canyon and the Gulf of Mexico -- and beyond -- ranged the enemy. An enemy grown suddenly, terrifyingly, one hundred percent effective against vessels such as his.
It came to Sparrow that the marine tunnel formed a grotesque birth canal. This cavern carved under a Georgia mountain was nestled in the earth like a fantastic womb. When they took their vessel out to do battle they were born into a terrible world that they did not want.
He wondered what BuPsych would think of an idea like that. They'd probably rate it as an indication of weakness, he thought. But why shouldn't I have a weakness? Something about fighting a war a mile and a half under the ocean -- the unrelenting pressure of water all around -- exposes every weakness in a man. It's the pressures. Constant pressures. Four men isolated in pressure, held in a, plasteel prison as they are held in the prisons of their souls.
Another jitney scurried across Sparrow's path. He dodged, looking up at his boat. He was close enough now to make out the name plate on the retractable conning tower high above him: Fenian Ram SI881. The boarding ramp swooped down from the tower in a long graceful curve.
The dock captain, a moonfaced lieutenant commander in fatigues, hurried up to Sparrow, a check list in his hands.
Sparrow turned without stopping. "Yes? Oh, hullo, Myers. Are all the ready crews off?"
Myers fell into step beside him. "Most of them. You've lost weight, Sparrow."
"Touch of dysentery," said Sparrow. "Got some bad fruit up at Garden Glenn. Has my new electronics officer showed up?"
"Haven't seen him. His gear came along earlier. Funny thing. There was a sealed box with his stuff. About so by so." He gestured with his hands. "Cleared by Admiral Belland."
"Why was it sealed?"
"It's supposed to contain some highly delicate instruments to monitor your new long-range search equipment. It was sealed so no zealous searcher could foul the works."
"Oh. I take it the new long-range gear is installed?"
"Yes. You're battle-checking it."
A cluster of men at the foot of the boarding ramp snapped to attention as the two officers approached. Sparrow and Myers stopped. Sparrow said, "At ease."
Myers said, "Sixteen minutes, Captain." He held out his hand, shook with Sparrow. "Good luck. Give 'em hell."
"Right," said Sparrow.
Myers headed for the foot of the dock.
Sparrow turned toward a heavy-bodied, hawk-faced man beside the ramp, First Officer Bonnett. "Hi, Les."
"Good to see you, Skipper," said Bonnett. He tucked a clipboard under his left arm, dismissed three ratings who were with him, turned back to Sparrow. "Where'd you and Rita go after the party?"
"Home," said Sparrow.
"So'd we," said Bonnett. He hooked a thumb toward the submarine behind him. "Final safety inspection's completed. Spare gear checked out. But there's a bit of a delay. Heppner's replacement hasn't reported."
Sparrow cursed inwardly, felt a stomach-gripping surge of frustration-anger. "Where is he?"
Bonnett shrugged. "All I know is that Security called and said there might be some delay. I told them --"
"Suffering Jesus!" barked Sparrow. "Do they always have to wait until the last minute? They had me --" He broke off. That was classified.
"They said they'd do their best," said Bonnett.
Sparrow pictured the complicated arrangements which would pass the Fenian Ram through their own defense network outward bound.
"It could take another day to set up a new passage time."
Bonnett glanced at his wrist watch, took a deep breath. "I told them 0800 was the latest. They wouldn't answer a damned one of my --" He fell silent as the ramp beside them rattled to descending footsteps.
Both men looked up, saw three figures coming down: two ratings carrying heavy-duty electronics detection gear, followed by a short wiry man with dark Latin features. He wore stained service fatigues, carried a small electronic search box under his right arm.
"Don Jose Garcia," said Sparrow.
Garcia shifted the search box to his left arm, stepped down to the dockside. "Skipper! Am I glad to see you!"
Sparrow moved back to permit the ratings to pass with their load, looked questioningly at the search box under Garcia's arm.
Garcia shook his head. "For God and Country," he said. "But sometimes I think I overdraw my account with God." He crossed himself. "The Security chaps have had us at this floating sewer pipe half the night. We've been over it from stem to stern four distinct times. Not a blip. Now, I say to you: they want me to make another search after we get underway down tunnel!" He raised his eyebrows. "I ask you!"
"We'll have to do it," said Sparrow. "I've allowed time before our first contact point for total deep-dive inspection."
"I say," said Garcia. He grinned. "You know, I've already gone and rigged for it."
Sparrow answered the grin, felt some of the tensions inside him begin to unknot.
Bonnett glanced significantly at his watch. "Twelve min --"
The whine of a command jitney's electric motor intruded upon him. All three men turned toward the sound. It came down the dark line of mooring slots, its single light casting an erratic Cyclops gleam upon the damp concrete. The jitney swerved up to the ramp, jerked to a stop. A redheaded man with a round, innocent face sat beside the driver, clutching his uniform cap in his hands.
Sparrow saw ensign's bars on the man's collar, thought: That will be my new E-offlcer. Sparrow grinned at the man's obvious relief upon a safe arrival. The recklessness of the base jitney drivers was a standard service joke.